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TENNIS Sampras wilts in face of Safin's sizzling display.

Twenty-year-old Russian Marat Safin beat four-time champion Pete Sampras 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 to win the US Open men's singles championship for his first Grand Slam title yesterday.

Ten years and one day after Sampras won the first of his record 13 Grand Slam titles as the Open's youngest champion, he was totally dominated by Safin, falling meekly in one hour and 38 minutes, as the sixth seed became the first Russian ever to win the US Open.

'I give him all the credit in the world,' said Sampras, who took a mind-boggling 13-2 record in Grand Slam finals into Sunday's match. 'He played so well he reminded me of when I was 19 and I came in here the first time.

'I'm sorry to these folks I didn't give them more of a match. I was trying my hardest,' Sampras told the crowd at the awards ceremony.

'He was too good. He passed and returned my serve as well as anyone I've ever played, so all credit to him,' said the seven-time Wimbledon champion.

When Safin unleashed a backhand crosscourt pass on his first match point in a Grand Slam final, an enormous smile broke out on his face as he raised his arms skyward and looked to the heavens in disbelief. He then got down on his knees and kissed the Arthur Ashe Stadium court.

Asked how he handled Sampras's vaunted serve so well, Safin shook his head and said, 'You think I know, I don't know.'

After becoming the US Open women's champion the previous night, Venus Williams had a question for President Clinton.

'What happened - where'd you go?' Williams asked Clinton on the telephone after her 6-4, 7-5 win over second-seeded Lindsay Davenport, noting that he left the US Open after Sampras's semi-final victory over Australian Lleyton Hewitt.

Clinton explained that the brief rain delay sent him for the exit doors because 'I had to come home to have dinner with Hillary.'

Williams, who became the seventh woman in the Open era to win Wimbledon and the US Open in the same year, was not shy in telling Clinton that she wanted dinner too, but had to play her match first.

The victory boosts Williams' winning streak to 26 consecutive matches with titles at Stanford, San Diego and New Haven sandwiched between her first two Grand Slam crowns.

'She's definitely the No 1 player right now,' Davenport said. 'She's played like it the last few months. I mean, she hasn't lost a match since the French Open (in late May). That's too good.'

What makes Williams' year even more outstanding is that she did not touch a racket in competition from November 1999 to this April because of tendinitis in both wrists.

It was only back in March that her father, Richard, was suggesting that Venus might retire for good from the tour.

He was of the opinion that his daughter, who was taking college courses at a fashion institute in Fort Lauderdale, had more important things to do with her life than smack fuzzy yellow balls around a tennis court.

But Williams, who called the retirement talk 'vicious rumour', was drawn back to the game, not only because of her love of the competition, but because 'I missed the countries, like visiting other places.'

And her father seemed to have forgotten his retirement pronouncement on Saturday when he ran down to the court to hug his latest US Open champion - youngest daughter Serena won last season - and then did a celebratory jig for all to see.

Sister Serena, who had returned to the Williams family home in Florida after losing in the quarter-finals to Davenport, surprised Venus by returning to New York for the final.

After the victory, when Venus sat down with the silver winner's chalice in front of her, she bent over to read the inscriptions.

'Feels real nice, because I'm going to be right next to Serena,' Williams said of the latest addition to the family Grand Slam trophy case.

Although Williams has returned to tennis, she will return to the classroom for 11 weeks following the Olympic Games, a move that will prevent her from playing enough tournaments this autumn to move into the world No 1 ranking.

'I have a problem with getting bored,' Williams said. 'I'll start something and not finish. I went to school and I have to go back and finish things in my life.'

The 20-year-old, who has never voted in an election, had no problem asking the president to resolve some tax problems she envisages getting even worse with the pounds 500,000 prize money that goes along with the US Open title. '(I told him) how I was really unhappy about my tax bracket,' she said.

Julie Halard-Decugis of France celebrated her 30th birthday in style by winning her first career Grand Slam title.

The Frenchwoman teamed up with Ai Sugiyama, of Japan, to capture the women's doubles title in New York as the second-seeded duo downed tenth seeds Cara Black, of Zimbabwe, and Elena Likhovtseva, of Russia, 6-0, 1-6, 6-1.

Sugiyama won her first Grand Slam crown at the US Open last year when she teamed with Mahesh Bhupathi, of India, to claim the mixed doubles title.

In addition to her first Grand Slam crown, Halard-Decugis earned pounds 106,000 - her share of the pounds 212,000 winner's cheque.

Black and Likhovtseva share pounds 106,000 as runners-up. The losing finalists received the gift of the competition when defending champions Venus and Serena Williams pulled out just prior to the semi-finals, allowing Black and Likhovtseva into the final on a walkover.

The reigning Wimbledon doubles champions withdrew immediately after Serena Williams was knocked out of the singles competition by Lindsay Davenport in the quarter-finals, citing a recurrence of a foot injury to Serena.
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Author:Hewitt, Sandra
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 11, 2000
Words:969
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